Holy Spirit, Holy Dove : an ecotheology of birds in Victorian poetics.


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Current criticism is only just beginning to consider the ways that religious commitments shape ecological conscience and how those theologies might be worked out in literary forms. This work examines the problematic relationship between religion and Victorian ecocriticism. I suggest that the time has come to develop a robust theological vocabulary for discussing the works of Victorian writers whose religious commitments shaped their concern for their own fraught ecological moments. The works of writers such as John Ruskin and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB), I show, anticipate developments in contemporary ecotheology – such as Norman Wirzba’s notion of iconic perception and Celia Deane-Drummond’s adaptation of theo-drama – entangling religious habits and attitudes with literary form and ethical ecological behaviors. To focus my study and to demonstrate my methods, I follow Ruskin’s injunction to “see the bird rightly” by contemplating the figure of the bird in Ruskin’s natural science writing and in representative works of lyric, drama, and verse-novel by EBB. In contemplating the figure of the bird, I show that the bird functions iconically and dramatically, rather than as anthropocentric image, in the ecological and literary imaginations of Ruskin and EBB, and, as such, it embodies a dynamic and holistic view of creation as perpetual, divine self-gift and personal intention through the Holy Spirit, in which creatures and the created no longer exist as objects to be consumed but as an interconnected and interdependent community that reveals and responds to the creator.



Victorian poetics. Nineteenth-century studies. John Ruskin. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Birds. Ecotheology. Ecocriticism. Iconic perception. Theo-drama. Ornithology. Love's Meinie. The Eagle's Nest. "My Doves." A Drama of Exile. Aurora Leigh.